It has now been a few days since the fields for the National Championships were released and we've had some time to digest and process the entries. As we look through the performance list, it's hard to ignore some of the exciting rivalries and matchups that are on deck for Friday and Saturday. Below, we gave you a few of the biggest battles to keep an eye on for this upcoming weekend...
McDonald vs Fisher
There may not be a matchup thats fans of the NCAA want to see more than McDonald vs Fisher. The two distance running titans have clashed only twice in the current academic calendar with McDonald winning the cross country national title and Fisher winning the Millrose 3k title. As a result, it has left us wondering if there really is a clear-cut favorite who can be considered "the best in the NCAA".
Of course, the 3000 meters won't be the only race that these two run at Nationals. McDonald will be running the 5000 meters on day one while Fisher is expected to run the DMR just 40 minutes after. Will doubling back on day two have an impact on the 3k title for either of these men? Regardless of if it does, McDonald vs Fisher is the newest rivalry that the media and followers of the sport have latched onto (and for good reason).
Women's 800 Meters: Power Five vs Non-Power Five
The women's 800 meters race has the potential to be one of the fastest and most thrilling races of the entire national meet. The race will be headlined by four different women. Norfolk State's Martha Bissah and Monmouth's Allie Wilson have been on fire this year, securing the top two spots in the NCAA (a pair of 2:02's) and showing consistency along with drastic improvement throughout the winter. However, mid-distance stars Danae Rivers (Penn State) and Rachel Pocratsky (Virginia Tech) are the favorites for the national title in the eyes of many.
Maybe it's because they attend smaller schools or run in conferences with lesser competition, but it seems like Bissah and Wilson have unfairly been set aside as afterthoughts in the few conversation's I've had with other collegiate distance running fans. Of course, it is hard to pick against the collegiate record holder for 1000 meters (Rivers) and one of the best overall mid-distance runners in the nation (Pocratsky).
Will the consistency and improvement from Bissah and Wilson be enough to take the top spots on the podium? Or will the experience and overwhelming fitness of Rivers and Pocratsky prove to be too much to handle?
Men's DMR: Notre Dame vs Stanford
In just a single year, the Notre Dame men have gone from being an unimpressive ACC distance program to one of the best teams in the country. Their roster has suddenly developed plenty of depth and they have added a handful of low-sticks who can provide elite firepower. After upsetting Syracuse for the ACC title in cross country, the Fighting Irish were able to pull off another upset over Wisconsin at the Alex Wilson Invite just a few weeks ago. Both relays ran the #2 and #3 fastest times ever in the NCAA.
While Wisconsin will certainly want revenge for their 2nd place finish, they will likely not have McDonald in the lineup and may opt to not enter Hoare in the relay either. If that happens, then it will be difficult for the Badgers to contend with Notre Dame this weekend
However, the team that likely wants revenge on Notre Dame more than Wisconsin is the Stanford Cardinal who posted an underwhelming 4th place finish at last year's national meet after Fisher was out-kicked by Nuguse. However, with Grant Fisher seemingly regaining enough poise to win a national title this season, the Fighting Irish may have a target on their backs as the Cardinal likely still have a bitter taste in their mouth from 2018.
Luckily for Coach Carlson's squad, they will have Yared Nuguse completely fresh after they decided to scratch him from the open mile. If one thing is clear, it's that the Irish are all-in for the distance medley on Friday night.
Meier vs Rizk
There may not be a rivalry more intense than Michigan and Ohio State. The BIG 10 programs have a long history of heavy disdain for each other across all sports and disciplines. After Michigan's Hannah Meier narrowly edged Ohio State's Julia Rizk at the BIG 10 Championships two weeks ago (4:32.46 to 4:32.79), Rizk and Buckeye fans around the country are hungry to topple their Wolverine rival on the nation's biggest stage. Luckily, the margin between these two runners is nearly zero and the path to win a national title is wide-open. It's very possible that the battle for individual gold comes down to just two these once again...
Stanovsek vs Oregon
The departure of Andy Powell from Oregon to conference rival Washington sent a shockwave throughout the running community this past summer and essentially deteriorated parts of the Oregon program. In addition to Powell's exit, Mick Stanovsek and Tanner Anderson also opted to leave Eugene for Seattle.
Despite the roster casualties, Oregon came back arguably even better than they were a year before. Just this season, they had a jaw-dropping six men run under the four minute barrier for the mile. With three Ducks entered to run the mile at Nationals, Stanovsek will have his hands full as he attempts to battle past former teammates who likely have extra incentive to prove that staying in Oregon was the right choice.
Ostrander vs New Mexico
Boise State's Allie Ostrander has been one of the nation's fastest and most dangerous national contenders for years now and 2019 is no different. However, the Bronco star has often had to face the hurdle of dealing with conference rival New Mexico.
So far this year, Ostrander has been unable to hang with the New Mexico duo of Kurgat and Kelati. She finished 4th at the BU Season Opener where the Lobo duo went 1-2 and later finished runner-up to Kelati in the mile at the Mountain West Championships. Ostrander also finished behind both New Mexico women at the NCAA Cross Country Championships this past fall.
Allie O is more than capable of winning a national title in something other than the steeplechase, but New Mexico seems to be her biggest obstacle in doing so. Despite the crowd of elite competition in the distance events, next weekend may be Ostrander's greatest opportunity to take home indoor gold.